Transport expert asks RAIB to re-open tram safety investigation

Transport for London has been accused of covering up a second safety report into fatigue among tram drivers – when driver tiredness thought to be one of the prime causes of the 2016 Croydon tram crash, in which seven people died and more than 60 suffered serious injury. It has led to one transport expert to call for the crash investigators to re-open their report to consider this recently discovered evidence.

City Hall officials are still suppressing tram safety reports, three years after the Sandilands crash

Inside Croydon has reported before on a tram drivers’ fatigue review which was carried out in 2017 but which TfL censored and failed to pass on to the then on-going independent rail accident investigations team at the time.

The review, which had been conducted by TfL, rated the fatigue performance of Tram Operations Ltd (the FirstGroup subsidiary running the trams) as “requires improvement”.

TfL only submitted this review to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch after questions asked at the London Assembly forced them to do so. TfL claimed that the failure to pass on the 2017 fatigue review to RAIB was due to an “administrative error”.

Now Private Eye is reporting the existence of a second, earlier report into driver fatigue. Carried out in 2014, the report made a series of recommendations over tram drivers’ work practices. Again, TfL didn’t pass this on to the RAIB.

And once again – conveniently – a large chunk of this report was missing when TfL was required to produce it for the London Assembly.

The police investigation into the tram crash has now been abandoned, with no one charged.

The RAIB report into the crash, published in late 2017, stated that the driver may have suffered a “microsleep”, possibly caused by fatigue. RAIB drew these conclusions despite being denied access to the 2014 fatigue review.

This 2014 survey was carried out for TfL by AbsTracked Solutions and discovered seven weaknesses in TOL’s safety management. According to the Eye, the review “found TfL’s policy to be barely ‘acceptable’, suggesting it was below industry norms and that the authority should make improvements within six months – including introducing better fatigue risk assessment and incident logging”.

The 2014 report did not emerge until last month, dragged out of TfL by diligent London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon. Even then, TfL provided only the first eight pages of a 12-page report.

Dogged questioning: Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon

As the Eye says, “Conveniently excluded were those [pages] citing TOL’s flaws and offering criticism of TfL.” This week, TfL have apologised for their error and provided the full 12 pages of the report. They say that the missing four pages were the result of a failure to properly transfer all the document into pdf format. Another “administrative error”, therefore.

Michael Liebreich, a former member of the TfL board, has accused TfL of a continuing cover-up over tram driver fatigue, and he has written to the RAIB asking it to re-open its report to better include the findings from the two fatigue reviews.

“You confidently conclude that TOL’s management of fatigue was ‘not a factor’ in a fatal crash which, you yourself, accept was most likely caused by a microsleep by a driver with likely sleep problems, who was operating in a flawed fatigue management system, in a work environment which fatigue was endemic,” Liebreich writes in his letter to RAIB.

Meanwhile, Liebreich also continues to call for a full and independent investigation into how TfL managed to cover-up and censor their 2017 fatigue review.

Liebreich has described the TfL cover-up of the fatigue review as the most “vital challenge” of Sadiq Khan’s Mayoralty. At the City Hall session with Assembly Members on the transport committee in September, Liebreich made clear the need for the Mayor to appoint an independent investigator “to answer all the open questions around TfL’s handling of Fatigue Audit IA 17 780”.

Assembly Member Florence Eshalomi: not good at replying to letters about the tram crash

Liebreich has since suggested that the current chair of the Assembly transport committee, Florence Eshalomi, is continuing a version of the cover-up for TfL officials, since his lengthy statement of evidence submitted before that September committee has not been included in the public record of that meeting. His letters to Eshalomi had also failed to elicit any reesponse.

Eshalomi is a former Lambeth Labour councillor who wants to become an MP for Vauxhall at the General Election.

After Inside Croydon reported the omission from the City Hall minutes of the Liebreich, Eshalomi had a flunkey write to this website, on more than one occasion (and therefore at considerable cost to the public), apparently eager to airbrush the public record.

“Suggestions that the chair of the transport committee purposely avoided the publication of the letter within agenda papers are obviously untrue,” the “external communications” official wrote.

This time, the powers who seem so keen to protect TfL officials are not using “administrative error” as their excuse for withholding a document from the public record. This time, it is all because of… election purdah.

Liebreich’s letter was sent and discussed in a public session at City Hall some six weeks before the election was called on October 31. In their communications with Inside Croydon, the City Hall official claims that by late November, Eshalomi, despite being a full-time Assembly Member and chair of a London-wide committee, had still not been able to get it included in any published minutes of the September meeting, claiming that none of this public record can be updated until after December 12.

Liebreich’s lengthy letter will, “be published under the summary list of actions ahead of the transport committee meeting on 17 December. These agenda papers will be published as soon as possible after the pre-election period,” the City Hall official wrote.

How this procrastination and delay serves the public interest, or the safety of tram passengers, neither Eshalomi nor the City Hall official have been able to say.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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